Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Do Believers Become Angels After They Die?

There seems to be some confusion about what happens to a believer when this life ends and they are ushered into Heaven. What is the confusion? Well meaning people comforting those who remain all of sudden forget what the Bible says, and say things like, "God now has another angel in Heaven to praise Him."  Is this right?  Is this biblical?  Let's "kick this around" and get to the "real issue."

Misconceptions.

Why is it that we hear believers comforting the grieving believer, and telling that their departed loved one is now another angel in heaven?  Christians are well meaning people, especially when we comfort someone who has lost a loved one, but we also need to be biblical in our worldview when we comfort someone. There are many sources for they erroneous affirmation of "angelic transference." Some people pick this bad "joo joo" up from talk show hosts with a new age worldview; or from reading books prescribing truth claims that are incompatible with the biblical worldview; or even TV shows like "Touched by an Angel,"where the word "angel" was the only thing it had in common with the Bible

I also looked on the web to see if there is anywhere someone might be getting this false idea. Unfortunately, I did not come up empty in my search. Unfortunately there was a good amount on websites from those who profess to hold to Christianity, biblical or not, I don't know. I will call it "cultural" if anything.

Looking at "cultural Christianity," I have found that does not embrace a biblical worldview. Well meaning cultural Christian folks are demonstrating their lack of understanding of what the Scriptures say about the nature of our immortal nature and that of the angels. So, what do we know that is true about the believer who passes from this life and goes home to glory?  Let's first look at where this misunderstanding comes from.

Setting the Issue Straight with Scripture.

In the 22nd chapter of Matthew's gospel, Jesus was challenged by the Sadducees with an example of a woman who was married to a man who had seven brothers. Something that we need to know about the Sadducees is that they were anti-supernaturalists and did not believe in a resurrection of the dead. 

Their challenge to Jesus was that if the first brother dies, the next surviving brother was under the Law to marry the surviving wife, and fulfill his vow in giving her offspring.  But they threw a "monkey wrench" into the mix, challenging Jesus with a faulty dilemma of the second brother dying, "and the third down to the seventh. And last of all the woman died. In the resurrection, whose wife of the seven shall she be?" (Matt. 22:26-28)  

First off, why are these brothers dying off? We would think that when the third brother saw his previous two siblings dead, he would have thought something was up.  Was she poisoning his brothers with her cooking or was she a cold hearted killer? As crazy and light hearted as these questions are, we see the ridiculousness of the Sadducees question. 

Jesus' answer is where cultural Christians "go off the deep end" creating a lack of biblical understanding.  What did Jesus say?  He said to His inquisitors, "You are mistaken not understanding the Scriptures or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven" (vv.29-30).  Sound familiar?  This is where the well meaning comforter gets their "God's getting another angel in heaven", with reference to the departed believer. It also shows,that even though the comfort is well meaning, it is wrong biblically speaking.

How is the departed believer like the angels?  First off we need to understand the context of the challenge coming from the Sadducees, which is marriage and childbearing. The question is about whose wife will the woman be when husband 1-7 dies at the time of the resurrection. The reason for the woman marrying brothers 2-7 is because the couples have produced no children. 

So if Jesus said we will be like the angels, what does that look like?

We will be like the angels in a couple of ways.  First, since the angels are not married, neither will we be married. This might sound cold hearted but it is not. It is biblical.  Please understand, I believe I will know my wife after we have both departed this life and are in heaven. We may even know one another as having been married in this life; but we will not be married in heaven.  

Second the angels do not procreate because there is no need to procreate in heaven (unless you embrace Mormon theology).  The only place where we see or hear something like this is out of external writings that have no historical bases or something out of fantasy literature.

Third, the departed believer now in heaven, has a new body.  It is a body that experiences no more pain, suffering, disease, infirmities or any other ailments. Why? Because our bodies in heaven will be an immortal body; one that has taken off the corruptible and been clothed in the essence of the incorruptible.

Practical Theological Reasons Why We Will Not Literally Be Angels

Jesus said that we will "be like the angels in heaven." (Matt. 22:30).  Notice He did not say that "we will be angels in heaven."  There is a comparison using the word "like" which is not a word for sameness. Humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  When God finished His work, He put a "personal touch" and created man, forming him from the dust and gave him life by sharing His own breath (Genesis 2:7; Heb. 2:9). Man is unique among God's creations having both a material and an immortal soul/spirit. Angels are not material beings, but are spiritually immortal beings that can manifest as physical beings. I think of the angel Gabriel in appearing the Mary, when he announced Jesus' birth.

Where we are also like the angels is in that humans and angels are personal and rational beings. Humans and angels are volitional beings, and can make rational and irrational decisions. Let's not forget that one third of the angelic hosts made an immoral and volitional decision to follow Lucifer and rebel against God. 

Man was also created a little lower than the angels. Angels are higher on God's pecking order in the context of creation. At the same time, there is going to come a day when the heavenly saints will rule over the angels (1 Cor. 6:3).  But there is something more important to this and that is how the angels look at our salvation.

How do the angels see us as saved individuals?

The Apostle Peter tells us, that even the angels long to look into our salvation!  (1 Peter 1:10-12)  When Satan and the others angels sinned, they fell from heaven. God did not provide salvation for them. He provided salvation only for fallen human beings, and at a great cost. That cost came as He took on human flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ and died as our substitute on the cross for our sins. God's plan is that His manifold wisdom might now be made known through the body of Christ (the church, the believers who have been called to salvation) to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realm (Eph 3:10). 

The angels actually rejoice over the salvation of one repentant sinner (Luke 15:10). So when a believer "goes home" to be with the Lord, they do not become an angel. In fact, if the angels rejoiced the day that "at home" believer "got saved", I wonder if they will be ushered in by those angels who were rejoicing on that great day of salvation.  That's one that we won't know until that day comes.

Angels are impressive beings, but we are not going to be one. They know a lot of God's majesty and they are being taught more and more about God through every new believer's salvation. 

Conclusion

As you have read through this posting, I pray that it has caused you to think a little bit more on the importance of living out a biblical worldview in every arena of our lives, and particularly when we are called upon to comfort a fellow brother or sister who is grieving.

We live in a fallen world and there are many influences, ideologies, and trite sayings offered on the smorgasbord of the culture.  We need to take what we hear and line it up with what Scripture teaches, not Roma Downey, Oprah Winfrey, or some Google search that leads one to Christianity-lite.

I pray that you will study this issue further. Thank you for indulging this very real issue. I hope you will find it helpful as you minister comfort to and grieve with those who are grieving and needing your comfort. Remember, be loving, but be biblical. You may be the only gospel that someone will read.


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